Fishtank update

So a bit of progress has been made in terms of the megatank.

I’ve done a bunch more reading on reef tanks, refugiums, DIY acrylic work, overflow boxes, etc. I suppose I should preface this with the circumstances we’re in, and go from there.

We had quite a bit of existing gear from the old tank (92gal. bowfront with builtin overflow). Refugium, protein skimmer, return pump, some tubing, a whole mess of lace rock, some water movers, and two canister filters. We also had a smaller tank that was designed to be used as a refugium for this tank. The problem was that, with the stand we made for this thing, you really need to have put that tank underneath the big tank (essentially, inside the stand) BEFORE you closed everything in. As it stands now, we would need to remove too many structural supports. I was willing to remove one, since it is actually really well built, but not two. With the one removed, I was literally like 1 freaking inch shy of being able to squeeze that tank in. No dice. That brings us back to the old refugium we were previously using for the bowfront. It fits under just fine. However, it is really too small for this tank. Yes, it’ll do for now, but in the long term, we will need to get a bigger one, or perhaps more to the point, another smaller one that I can create a junction between or something.

Ok, so that led to the idea of making my own. How hard can acrylic be to work with? Turns out, it isn’t too bad. There are some great resources out there to assist with the process. Most notably, this thread over at Reef Central. When I realized this was no minor undertaking, I also tried to see if there was anyone out there making custom sump tanks/refugiums. That led to this guy, who appears to do some really quality work. Somewhere down the road, a new sump tank, or at least something to supplement the existing one, will be in order. For the moment, we have what we have.

In the process of testing the sump, pump and skimmer, I also broke the skimmer we have. Ah well. What we have would have been undersized anyway. Another thing that has to be put off a bit due to cost. I refuse to get a crappy one this time. We’ve dealt with crappy ones too many times. The pump we have will push 1200 gph. With a 5′ (approx) head, that is probably more like 900 and one 90 degree elbow reduces by another 50-100gph. All said, that is too little flow. But again, it’ll do for now.

And that brings us to the overflow box. The bowfront had the overflow built in, so that required no additional hardware. This one is not pre-drilled, and doing that yourself is always a gamble. So we opted to just go for one of the HOS (hang on side) variety. I ended up buying an Eshopps PF-1200 Overflow Box. I think for the tank size, it is just about right. It does have two downspouts, of which I am only using at the moment. I will get into the plumbing required here shortly. The key with this type of overflow is maintaining the suction (in my head, all I can hear is Craig Ferguson harping on “the proper amount of suction”). Getting that to work correctly is pretty easy, actually. It really only took a short amount of time to get a decent balance going with the water level in the tank and overflow and the water level in the sump tank. Well, and this was take 2 on that effort. This first pointed out a few leaks that had to be resolved. $40 and some plumbing solvent/cement later, and all was well. No leaks that I can see.

Ok, some pics… taking a short break from this post to get my gallery uploader all working and automated again.

Off to the right is a picture of the overflow box hanging off the back of the aquarium:

Overflow

Overflow

You can see a few things here. First, I am not using the second downspout yet. Until I get a sump/refugium setup that can accept two inputs, there isn’t any point. Second, you can see how stupid the types of connectors you get with these things. Or, perhaps, my stupidity in plumbing. To get a flexible hose to the refugium of the right size, I’m using “sump pump hose” from home depot. The connectors on the overflow box are also not any standard that I can identify, so makeshift plumbing hack it is. Closer inspection of the “U” tubes that provide the suction will show that there are very nearly no air bubbles at all at the top, which is perfect. Nice even flow the whole time with no danger of it just stopping function. The picture links back to my gallery where the full size image can be found. Ok, lemme see if I can get multiple image to play nice in the layout here…

Plumbing

Plumbing

Ok, good enough. So there you see the tube I used to connect the overflow box to the refugium. Why so long, you say? Remember the aforementioned “sump pump hose”. Well, it comes in a 24 foot length, and the only place where you can put clamps on it is at 10′ intervals. So there’s obviously a bit extra there. I don’t consider this a long term solution, but it’ll work for now. It doesn’t leak, clamps on well, and thats about it. Definitely the “budget” option, here.

And so it is up and running. I haven’t tried measuring the outflow rate, but it is definitely cycling, and the water level is right at the top of the glass (when viewed from the front of the tank. The part of the overflow box that hangs inside the tank is black, and the background paper on the tank is black, so it is barely visible unless you’re really looking for it. There is already a difference in the surface particulate matter that was accumulating, so it is doing its job well. We’ll see how much water evaporation we get.

There is a LOT more work to be done here before the system can be considered to be fully operational and capable of supporting the kind of life we want it to. Next steps, as budget permits:

  • Replace broken bulbs (just a couple actinics, I think)
  • Get glass or plexi tank cover sized and slotted correctly
  • Settle on tank layout plan, including water flow
  • Supplement water flow with movers as needed
  • Decide what to do with the extra canister filters (if anything)
  • Replace skimmer

There will definitely be more of these posts as we make more progress. The only real limiting factor in continuing these efforts is just money. So as budget frees up, we’ll knock out some of those above items.

Leg

The final leg of the journey went fine, and sleep-less-ness aside, all is well. I sat out on he porch (pictures forthcoming) by myself for about 30-45 minutes once we got settled in. It was about 11am local time, and maybe 70 degrees out. There was a slight wind constantly going (as is normal here), and the bliss feeling was nearly instantaneous. My earlier complaining about the process of travel, while not invalid, was quickly outweighed by the benefits of being here in particular. I do really like it. The view is awesome off the porch. There is nothing going on here except us relaxing. No pressure to do anything or see anyone. This is, by far, the way I prefer to travel. I think we have two actual agenda items to hit while we’re here, and no particular day those things need to happen.

One is to get the kids to the beach here. There will likely be some minor stress associated with that, but no more than normal kid-wrangling for any outing, anywhere. And the second is to go fishing. No idea what is in season right now, and honestly, it is more for Madeline than me. But I’d like her to see the whole process anyway. I have no idea what she’ll think of it. She might not like it at all. Sometimes she is utterly fascinated by things that squick other kids (Zombies), and other times, the smallest things frighten her (vacuums). Its hard to predict. Right now, it seems like she is hesitating, so we’ll try to come up with a way to sell it. She’s also never been on a boat before, so that might be a challenge in and of itself.

Nearly finishing with Game of Thrones (first book). Not sure how I feel about it. It probably would have been better to read it BEFORE watching the show, to be completely fair. I am struck by how well the show has stuck to the book. Normally, there is so much license taken with making something “screen-worthy” that you either lose a lot of content, or you end up adding in things that were just flat out never the author’s intent. But so far, omissions have been small. I did bring the second book with me as well. I may take a break from that series to read one of the others I’ve brought though. We’ll see, I suppose.

And this brings up the one rationale I can possibly come up with to own a tablet reader device. Travel. I probably will read half of what I brought with me, and books just add significant weight to everything. I’d certainly much rather tote around a 20 oz. tablet with all my books on it than all the books themselves. And certainly, technical references are the same example. I can lug around a bookshelf worth of O’Reilly stuff, or a tablet with all the PDFs. Duh. Easy sell. Now that I’m focusing on management instead of pure technical stuff though, maybe that day has passed for me. In most work scenarios, I’m also going to have internet access from either a laptop or main machine, so the reasons break down there to some extent as well.

It just occurred to me that these long stream-of-consciousness posts are decidedly anti-blogorific. Blogs that are well read (at least, by me) tend to be focused on single topics and explore them thoroughly, as opposed to traipsing all over the current day’s thoughts. Maybe I’m forging a new path. Or maybe I’m just limiting who is likely to read this. Ah well. IyamwhatIyam.

More later.

Recent updates, intro

So I’m sitting in the observation deck of the Halifax airport. It is 4am local time. Madeline and Nicholas are sleeping somewhat fitfully, but asleep nonetheless. Ella is trying, but mostly failing at same. But we knew this was the likely outcome. But really, did getting a hotel here really make sense? Arrive on flight at roughly 1:45am (local time), pay some exhorbitant fee to get to the hotel by 2:30 or so. Take 30-45 minutes to get the kids sleeping. And then reverse the whole process at 6am to be back here in time for the next flight out. No, it really doesn’t. So here we are.

The flights have been decent. Air Canada has always been on my “they don’t suck much” list as far as airlines go. Air travel (and actually, most travel, for that matter) sucks. I mean, the mechanics of getting from Point A to Point B. Once you’re there, rested, and doing stuff, its all good. But the act of picking up and moving one’s self across uncountable miles is just draining. I used to be ok with parts of it, and I could rationalize the rest as a reasonable compromise. Now, add in two kids into that mix, one an infant, and it just gets unreasonably ugly. Madeline was great today, no whining or fussing. Fascination with the flights, taking off, landing and generally being agreeable. More than anything, I think she is also just anxious to reach the destination and see Oma. She has LISTS of things to do. LISTS I tell you. Nicholas was *mostly* good. He is in a weird slightly disagreeable phase right now, and it manifests in ways that have the potential to make for a LongTravelDay. A few small incidents aside, he’s been ok.

Again, once the destination is reached tomorrow morning, there will be naps. OH YES. Perhaps by dinnertime and a shower later, and we might be close to reasonably human again. I expect there will be many posts this week. Vacation has a habit of bringing that out in me, I suppose. Or it could be that whole “free time” thing. Amazing, wot? As I am in the habit of doing when I look at my blog, I re-read the last post, and realized that a whole mess of stuff has transpired since that last post. So there is a lot to talk about, and I expect some brain dumping to occur.

For the moment, though, I will constrain myself to opine on the nature of this airport and this fine observation deck am I currently stationed in. I’m sitting on the windowsill, staring down three floors to the concourse. At this early hour, it is devoid of any activity. No refueling activity, luggage cars sitting in semi-organized groups in seemingly random areas strewn about. Planes all parked and dark. Thankfully, the Tim Horton’s downstairs doesn’t sleep, and that yielded up some caffeine goodness to keep your humble blogster (is that a word?) properly fueled himself.

As I stare into this currently lifeless hub, I can’t help but think of things much bigger. In a few hours (maybe not even), the drones will begin their droning. Luggage will move from place to place, fuel will make its way into the veins of these wing’ed beasts. Passengers will begin their frantic loading and unloading. And this little corner of the global lifeblood will again be participating in the global dance. It strikes me as all maddeningly complex. Just this one small microcosm of activity, repeated in thousands of similar venues all over the world, that drives (or, ok… at least keeps greased the gears of) this immense engine of civilization. It seems to me that all the pundits of every scree and order who proclaim to understand some small inkling of a piece of all of it are just whistling into the wind. The reality of their verbal pissing is just so much refuse. just that… piss. Not worth much more than to fertilize the mind of the next pedant to navigate those same waters.

Took a short break there to hold my sleeping son. There are fewer moments like that as time goes on, and you have to enjoy them when you get them.

Fast forward until shortly after 5am, and now activity has picked up a bit. When we got here, there were probably a half dozen people sleeping in here. They’ve all left at this point, presumably for earlier flights than ours. And now this mom/dad/son combo has intruded on our otherwise isolated space with a MONSTROUS NOISE. Yelling and looking out at planes and what was surely going to be a beating narrowly averted. Yes. 5am. They have definitely seen that we have two kids sleeping here, and we are otherwise quiet and trying hard to keep it that way. Is that a Canadian trait that I was heretofore unaware of? Apparently. Actually, they sounds like Minnesotans, if my ability to place accents is at all up to snuff. Anyway, my Muse is interrupted, and not likely to return.

Cheers for now.

More basement stuff

We’re really getting close now. Plumbing is 90% done. Basement electrical trim is done (there are a few items upstairs still to do). They’re going to be starting carpet tomorrow after a thorough cleanup. Fish tank goes downstairs tomorrow as well, and possibly the trim around the tank if they get time. We’ll have a trimout inspection probably early next and final walkthrough next week. Amazing journey, this.

The daily pictures are posted here:

https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/118195920712839083844/albums

You do need to be in my circles on G+ if you want to see that stuff, though, so circle me if you can’t see them and let me know, and I’ll circle you back promptly.

I’ve also done almost all of the wiring closet wiring at this point as well, and I’m very happy with the result. All CAT6 runs done, all RG6 runs done, all speaker runs done. The only remaining work is a couple more cables that come from the tv (2 HDMI, 1 VGA, a couple more RG6, etc). I still have to mount things like the infrared distribution thinger, the RG6 cable splitter, the UPS. I need to cut and put up the other time wireframe shelves too. They will hold the receiver, cable box/dvr, my two servers, the slingbox, the NAS and um… oh, the DVD player. I think that is it. All the wallplate work still remains. That should be pretty easy though, just a matter of getting around the room with some free time and doing it.

I was really pleased to see that the CAT6 keystone are punchdown and not crimp. My hands are just not as capable of hours of crimping cable like they used to. Punchdown is easy. The RG6 compression crimp is NOTHING compared to CAT5/6 cable ends. I’m actually contemplating hitting up one of the local network cable supply stores for a whole mess of 1′, 3′ and 6′ patch cables. Need to price that out and see if its reasonable and worth it. I’m sure they hire some kind of slave labor or college kids or something to crimp cables, so I’m really just pumping money into the economy, right? Right?

What else… not much I guess. It is a lot quieter now that all the saws and cutting and stuff is done. Its so close now that we’re getting into the sort of anxious excitement mode now to have our space back. Very ready for that, to be sure.

I have no idea what we’re going to do furniture-wise yet. There are a few items that were not damaged in the flood that we kept, and they will probably go down pretty quickly to start making the space usable again, but there are definitely a bunch of things we’re going to need to buy again, and not all of it (in fact, not most of it) will be covered by insurance. So it may take a little bit to get everything restocked, so to speak. In rough order of purchasing, I suspect it will go something like: couch, desk(s), shelving, exercise bike, guestroom bed, and then miscellaneous stuff like end tables and whatever else we need to fill out the space nicely.

As far as where everything is going to go… I really have no idea. The only “fixed” things are the couch, tv spot and the fish tank. The fish tank is going to be a huge project. We are definitely going to have to start it out fresh water, though I think the long term goal (once money permits) is to get back into a reef setup. The startup costs on that are going to be huge. Rough estimates say to have one pound of live rock for every gallon of water. So 250 lbs at roughly $4-$6/lb. Yeah. Now you’re with me. And that doesn’t include any of the ancillary gear you need like protein skimmers, more pumps, filtration, blah blah blah. Oh yeah, and something living. Both reef fish and corals are all on the high side of cost (at least when compared to fresh water fish). I think for the fresh water setup I will probably need some more substrate to add to what I had just purchased for the 75gal. tank. I should be able to get away with inert stuff since what I got before is good quality. A few plants, probably 1 or 2 pumps for circulation and probably some additional heating. The glass covers need to be replaced, and I want to get better quality lighting as well. I need to take a good look at the filter that came with it as well, and whether or not I can use it in conjunction with my existing eheim. If not, I’ll probably pick up another eheim. So it will be more in the order of a few hundred dollars, not a few thousand. Might not happen on day 1, but it won’t be too long in waiting either. Since it is such a central part of the new look of the basement, I’d really like to have it up and running as soon as possible.

I need to get some sleep… more to come very soon, with hopefully some final thoughts on this whole basement epic once they have wrapped up here in a week or so.

Basement update

As you might expect, work has been proceeding apace on the basement. I have been documenting that every day they do more work with pictures posted up to Google+. If you are not currently using Google+ or aren’t in my circles there, you won’t see them. If you are, here is a quick link to the albums page:

https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/118195920712839083844/albums

I created a new album (Day1, Day2, etc) for each day’s worth of pictures. Obviously, the days didn’t all happen in a row. Some days nothing except delivery of new materials, or an inspection of current work to meet code, or what have you.

Overall, I’m very impressed with the quality of work and the speed things are getting done. Communication from the contractor has been good, and responses to questions and concerns are generally handled the same day or at worst, the next day. All the subcontractors have been very professional, courteous to us if we’re home, and even ok with the dogs being upstairs and occasionally barking. Again, I’m hesitating to give any final recommendations until we see the final product, but my current sense is that I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending these guys to anyone, or calling on them again in the future to help us with additional work.

I will express one thing in particular, since it was so notable in all this progress. As I mentioned in a previous post, the owners of this property before us really did a number on the house when they “finished” the basement. As noted before, the electrical system in particular was really just not handled in a safe way. All of the downstairs circuits were simply tied back up into existing junction boxes upstairs. The net effect of this was two-fold. First, we would very commonly overload a circuit with it having load both downstairs and upstairs. Fuses popped all the time. Further, when they did the tie-ins to the junction boxes upstairs, they just didn’t do it right. Very often, we’d be left with an upstairs wall plate that was loose or just flat out not working. So the end result is that when we “fixed” the basement, we also wanted them to go to all the upstairs boxes that had been tied into, and fix them as well. In the end, we asked them to just do a full “audit” of all the electrical in the house. They expanded the panel in the garage. If we ever want to put more capacity in the house we can. This was done so that we could “properly” run a sub-panel downstairs. Every wall socket and switch on the house is now replaced with new plates. All junction boxes have been checked for safety.

Here’s the scary part… and it only confirms the fears I had about how it was improperly done the first time around… when they went through and checked them, three of the junction boxes had to be pulled out and replaced because they were charred on the inside. Right. Burn marks from sparks or who knows what. We really are fortunate the whole place didn’t just burn right down to the ground along the way.

So when I got home that day after all this work was done, I walked around the whole house, checking outlets, flipping switches, etc. I really didn’t understand fully just how much all that had been weighing on me over time. To have everything finally be safe? Worth every single penny. I’m fact, I’m not sure I can even place a value on that. I truly felt (and still do) like a burden had been lifted, and relieved.

What’s next? Well, as the pictures show, they are up to the point now where mud/tape on the drywall is done and drying. They will come in I believe on Saturday to texture. Trim package and tile arrives on Monday. I’m not sure if they will start in with the trim and tile work on Monday or wait until Tuesday. I think they are also going to try and get the fish tank moved downstairs then as well, since some of the trim work depends on it being in place already. I also think we slightly over-estimated on the weight of the tank. Troy had originally told me it was about 700 lbs. empty. Based on some online calculators for it (not like I can just weight it)… it is probably more like 500, or slightly less even. In any case, they will get a few of their guys to come in one of those days and lug that thing downstairs. I’m grateful I don’t have to do that myself for certain.

What remains? Trim and tile. Cabinets, doors, shelving installation. Full cleanup, sweep and vacuum to prepare for painting. Paint. Door and bathroom hardware install. Final HVAC, electrical and plumbing. Carpet install. Final inspections. Final walk through and punch list. Done. I do believe we’re still on target for a completion date in the first week of March. It has definitely been exciting to come home from work every day, walk downstairs and see the incremental progress. Quite an adventure, to be sure. I’m anxious for this all to be done. We have this vision of the completed product. We will have a lot of work after that in turning it back into a living space. There may be a bit of lag in replacing some of the furniture, of course. We got rid of a few things that insurance isn’t covering (for example, the hated futon), which we will need to replace once money permits.

Though we do have notions of where things like desks and office stuff is going to go, I suspect that once we actually get stuff downstairs and have the ability to move things around in the space, we’re going to end up with a different configuration. Its very difficult, even with the walls up now, to imagine how things will work out once the space is occupied again with furnishings, bookshelves, paintings and such. But that part, I think, will be fun. I do expect that there will also be some additional stuff we decided to throw out at that point. When we were lugging everything out of the basement to get it out of the way, we didn’t really pay that much attention to whether or not we really wanted to save all of that still. Stuff that has been sitting in boxes for 15 years under the stairs? Maybe its time to look at it more closely and see if it really should remain. Having to carry it all back downstairs again shouldn’t happen until that evaluation has taken place. As I said, though, I think we’re both looking forward to that part.

And of course, the kids will have a lot more space to play again. I think that has been the hardest adjustment to this period of time … where everything is essentially cramped into “half a house”. We’re climbing over each other constantly. There is NO space that isn’t also occupied with the kid’s toys and books, etc. You can clean that up every day, and in 2 hours they will return it to the state they prefer the next day. Its almost not worth even trying to clean up after them. I’m looking forward to having proverbial elbow room again.

Finally, somewhere along the process of the aforementioned work, I will also be getting the remainder of the wiring closet work completed. Both the wall plates and the termination point in the wiring closet need to be punched down and finished off. Though I can already feel the cramping in my hands just thinking about doing that, I do like getting all that done and everything linked in properly. I’m quite certain I will be photo-documenting that effort once I get to it as well, to satisfy the geekiness of all that.

More to come as this progresses…

Basement Joyride

Finally, some quick picks of Maddie taking a bit of a joyride in the basement on her Christmas tricycle. She can’t really ride it upstairs on the rugs, so downstairs on the nice smooth floor seems like a perfect opportunity. It looks dark and wet because it was just mopped.

Pics from here on should be once the work has begun…

Basement Joyride

Basement Cleanup, Final

Link to the final cleanup photos…

Final Cleanup Photos

Basement Demolition

Link to the Demolition photos…

Basement Demolition

Sodden Life, part Deux

So its been several weeks since my first part of this series. Suffice it to say that alot has happened. In the interest of brevity, I will summarize here. My intent over the next, say… 8 weeks or so is to document the remainder of this adventure with pictures.

Cleanup of the basement was somewhat involved. Once the initial water was gone, it was clear that what remained was essentially trashed. Most of the furniture (desks, couch, chair, a good portion of shelving, etc was all water damaged and barely, if at all usable. We had a few scary days where we had a mold bloom down there and really thought we were going to have to move out. A bit of creative fan work and that was resolved.

At this point, we had some hard thinking to do. We have, essentially since we first moved in here, wanted to redo the basement. A previous owner, and we’re not even sure which (though we certainly have suspicions) “finished” the basement. You’ll note the quotation marks please, as they are quite intentional. How you should really read that sentence is “A previous owner seriously fucked up the basement”. How, you ask? No new electrical circuits, they simply tied lines to upstairs junction boxes. Several lines were never even properly connected, leaving bare, live wires in the ceiling. Several wires were reversed in the “coloring” of the wires. So that green wire you thought carried ground? Nope, not so much. Good way to kill someone, quite honestly. And speaking of grounding… NO outlets, even those near water sources, were GFI. Oh, yeah… speaking of water sources? Hmm… this warrants a bit further explanation…

Since we’ve moved in, we’ve had several “events” where we’ve had basement flooding at a much less serious level than this one. Normally only during serious rainstorms, and usually only when the gutters were not working properly in their jobs of carrying water away from the house. When this would happen, the source of water would always appear to be coming from somewhere behind the shower. So as we’re going through this process of evaluating the costs of redoing the basement, we’re somewhat fearful. What are we going to find behind that shower? Some serious chasm in the foundation that is letting water seep in? Even to the extent of having someone come out and price out fitting the basement with a perimeter “gutter” system that would all run back to a sump (about $11000, btw). Scary stuff. So… we’re tearing out the basement down to the concrete (I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit), and eventually get to the shower. What did we find behind it?

Wait for it…

A window. Right. Quality work there, I tell you. They had closed the window, put in two layers of styrofoam, duct taped it to the frame, and stuck the shower in front of it. In all honesty, it was a relief. Once we got over the shock of just how inept they were, we were mostly grateful that we were not going to have to go through some serious cash to water proof our investment.

Ok, so back on the timeline again… we had several contracting companies come over to walk through with us. Initially, we were thinking we would ask them to give us some design ideas (most of them will do that step for free to get your business). Then we would evaluate the designs, and attempt to do as much of this ourselves as we could. The only parts that (well, time and money permitting, obviously) I will absolutely NOT do myself are electrical work and plumbing. There are good reasons those tasks require permits and inspections and “certification” that you’re not making the dwelling unsafe to live in (like say, the previous owners had). Second, electricity is scary. I probably have explained this in previous posts, but I’m too lazy to go search for them and link them right now.

For those of you who aren’t savvy to such things, I’ll give you some quick pointers. At least in this area, a “basement finishing” will run you about $35/sq.ft. This is an *average* price, with average allowances for all the things you can decide on, like paint, rugs, hardware (door knobs, faucets, lighting, etc). If you choose really premium options for those things, it gets more expensive. Anything beyond the “normal” work you’d expect someone to do.

Ok, so at this point you’re probably thinking… “so whats the big deal, you get the insurance money, spend it on the new basement, done deal, right?”. No. See…. the insurance company isn’t paying for the refinish. Their paying for exactly the things they assessed to be damaged beyond repair, and that DID NOT include the drywall or structural elements down there. The only significant structural piece they’re covering is the floor covering. So that is why this was such a hard path to go down. This is not cheap, and while we did have some savings… it didn’t really add up to that. Suffice to say we wrangled together what we needed to.

Contractor selection was interesting. We had everything from very professional treatment to a pair of stoned guys with a tape measure. With several more in between that I could get into, but won’t. In the end, after lots of back and forth discussion over design details and examining quotes and checking of references, we ended up going with . I’m going to reserve any statement about quality of work since they haven’t begun yet, but the experience so far has been very positive. They are responsive, attentive to our input and questions, willing to work with us on a variety of “nitpicky” elements, and their references were stellar. They also completely itemized the quote, giving us complete transparency into which elements we have the ability to cut back on or splurge on. They even listed their own profit in the quote. I really can’t ask for more than that.

As I inferred earlier, the first step was to completely gut the basement. A few quick notes about that.

  • Do not underestimate the power of drywall dust to completely trash your lungs. Wear well fitted filtration masks and eye protection. Seriously, I mean it.
  • It is *shocking* how fast you can destroy a structure. Admittedly, this one wasn’t well put together, but even if it had been. Holy crap. 4 people, 3 hours, and it was piles of trash on the floor.
  • Invite friends over for this. It is WAY fun to tear shit apart. I’d even go so far as to say therapeutic. (BIG LOVE to Jeff, Geoff and Eris for their help!!)
  • Be sure to keep a good grip on the sledgehammer. This may seem obvious. It should be. Just sayin’
  • Be *very* sure where your electrical wires are, and either turn power off if you can, or be extra careful when tearing down around the live elements.
  • Rent a rolloff dumpster. We went through TWO 20 cubic yard dumpsters all told. Granted some of that was flood damaged furniture as well, but still. Its a CRAPTON of trash. Be prepared for getting rid of it all.

I think this is a reasonable place to end this. The posts over the next weeks here will likely all be accompanied by pictures of the progress, or at least links to a gallery or something where I will keep all this sorted… in fact, I’m going to go make that now.

Watch this space for updates!!

And on top of it all

I don’t think there is any more frustrating experience in the world than being a technical type person, and having to call a tech support call center that is attempting to help you, that knows ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE less than you do about your problem.

So yesterday, rewind to approximately 11:30am. I was doing some browsing to find the address of the place where we have to send our insurance check to get it co-signed. Might as well put in a quick aside about that. It turns out that if you have some kind of problem that theoretically might de-value your home, any money the insurance company provides you needs to be endorsed by the mortgage holder as well. SO yeah, off it went in the mail today. But thats neither here nor there. So, 11:40, just as I’m getting the right phone numbers to call and account numbers, my Internet goes away. Damn you, Al Gore, I thought we had an agreement about this sort of thing.

So I poke around, do the usual resetting of modems, etc, no dice. Now I crack my knuckles and break out my network juju, and get to work. It took me roughly 5 minutes to find what I thought might be the source of the problem, along with 1 other extraneous piece of data that turned out to be nothing. My modem (this is DSL) is syncing up with the CO just fine, and PPP authenticates just fine. My router is getting its static IP address without trouble. I can ping both the internal interface on the router I attach to (private, facing me), as well as its public ip that faces the ‘net. After that? Its a big black hole of traffic. So at this point, all data is suggesting that my static ip address’ route is no longer routing back to me.

So, call up their tech support, and sure… I’m in the land of first tier support, trying desperately to get out. I try every tactic I know to get escalated, but the person I am on with just isn’t having it. Time spent in that first go at it? 3.5 hours. They had me try every possible method of resetting the modem possible, including hard resets and restoring factory defaults. Which of course means that all my custom routing stuff is now gone, and I’ll have to redo from scratch. Despite all my pleadings, they are very insistent on eliminating every possible local element from the equation. So no, I can’t have the DSL modem connected to my machine through a switch. I have to establish a direct connection to it, despite those things being in different rooms in the (now very much torn apart) basement. I humor them. I have to. I figure the only way to get through this tier is to allow them to walk me through all the “are you sure its plugged” in steps before getting me on the phone with the actual network engineer who will understand the language I’m using to describe the problem.

But no, 3.5 hours, and now I have to get to my dinner date with friends. I get the ticket number, the assurance that the person is going to put complete notes in the ticket, and pray I don’t have to go down the same road when I get back home and talk to the next tech support office servicing them, which will invariably be in India or China.

Fast forward a bit, midnight, back home and get back on the phone. I still had to do a little dancing for this next tech, but was able to convince her (probably along with whatever notes were in the ticket) that we had tried every available first tier method for solving this. Her answer? You have a defective modem. Now, please note… this is the modem THEY sold me, and it is now roughly 3 months past its warranty. So in effect, any further troubleshooting is on hold until I pony up for the new modem and continue on from there. But as I mentioned earlier… I *know* it isn’t my modem. I can see the entire connection process. I can see their router, it is a routing issue on THEIR side causing this. That does… hit the escalate button. Another 20 minutes of re-explaining things to the shift supervisor, who appears to listen to reason, and indicates he has to escalate it to their routing team. No problem, I’ll hold. No sir, sorry, they only come in at 8am. But I will send an email as soon as we get off the phone and let them know that you’ll call them in the morning. Here is a new ticket number with the escalation… blah blah blah. Phone hangs up, I go to bed, now 5.5 hours into this issue, and no resolution in sight, despite having properly diagnosed the problem FIFTEEN MINUTES into it, on my own, without their assistance. I go to bed thinking I’m going to have another long day of phone wrangling.

Get up, liesurely breakfast, get downstairs …

*gasp*… routing problem fixed, all restored (well, except my modem settings). All hail the gods of whatever person saw fit to take a look at the ticket in their incoming queue and do some investigation on their own before I called in and repoint my goddamn static ip back to the router that faces me. You deserve a quick bow of appreciation and a clink of glasses wishing you a happy new year. Cheers, random network dude. You saved me a frustrating day.

Sodden Life, Part 1

So we’ve had a bit of a mess here.

Last Monday night, I went to the bathroom, flushed the toilet and went to bed. Figure this was about 10:20pm or so. At this point, you’re probably thinking “oh great, this is another of those blog posts where over-share occurs and now I know intimate details about their bathroom habits that I could otherwise have spared myself”. No, actually, it isn’t. I only mention that to give you a timing of events. Fast forward 8.5 hours to my wife walking downstairs to get my daughter a set of clothes from the freshly done laundry. She makes it to the bottom step, and is suddenly ankle deep in very cold water. After a bit of frantic running around, shutting off of all the power in the house (for fear of there being a live circuit and standing in water carrying a current), we find that that same toilet mentioned above is behaving more like a fountain than a toilet, and most likely has been for all of the afore-mentioned 8.5 hours.

I’m going to skip some details of the next several days. Suffice to say that there was alot of work involved, and we’re about to have the insurance assessor come out (Tuesday morning) and tell us what they’re willing to help us recover/pay for/replace/etc. That should be interesting.

But what struck me most about the past days of going through stuff, trying to inventory what has been damaged or not, is some of the stuff we’ve found… historical parts of our lives, that had been living in the crawlspace and are being “unearthed” (dug up? what is the word for recovering from the depths of water?) for the first time in many years.

We got to the back of the crawlspace under the stairs tonight, and pulled out the only box that was still there. The rest had been pulled out the day of the initial discovery and cleanup. I don’t know why that one was left there. Maybe it was too heavy. I don’t know. Anyway…

It was a box labelled “Desk Stuff”, and it was unopened in AT LEAST 12 years, and more likely 15. It contained a whole mess of stuff that really should have just been thrown out years ago. Bills and filing cabinet records from, literally, 1986-1992 or so. Phone bills, paystubs, bank statements, etc. All well past the “7 years” that could theoretically be called on in the case of an IRS audit. In addition, though, were some real gems. The first stock grant I’ve ever had. 3000 shares of Pre-IPO shares from Citrix Systems, and $0.185 per share. Phew. Of course, most of the written parts of it, like signatures and stuff were hopeless smudges of blue ink, but the printed out stuff was completely legible. It disintegrated in my hands as I was looking at it and turning pages.

In there as well was a notebook of … well, I’ll call it a journal. Not like a diary, per se, but more like notes I took about my life at the time. From 1989 and ’90. A love letter to “Cindy”, who I … well, it took me literally minutes to dig into my memory to pull up all the memories of. That may sound kind of bad, but it just wasn’t in “easy reach” of my brain’s search engine anymore. once I thought a bit, a few triggers of memories, and it all came flooding back. Nothing terribly notable or formative, but … there it was. And so now I look at the first 50 pages of that book, all the words hopelessly lost to the ink smudge’d mess that they’ve turned into… and I wonder…

What part of my historical record have I now lost and will maybe never recall again?

More than a bit disturbing. I think perhaps once all that stuff dries out that I’m going to go through it a bit more thoroughly, and maybe commit some of that to the blog. It isn’t more “permanent” by any stretch. Any media, no matter how far abstracted from a physical object… is still tenuous. But maybe a bit better protected than the waterlogged box in my crawlspace.

the intarwebzorz are awesome

So I had a great InternetExperience(tm) a week or so ago.

A few weeks back, someone on… I think G+, linked me to an artist I had never heard about on youtube. I think the “deer park” video if I’m not mistaken. Alright, so I dig it. I make myself a youtube playlist out of it. A youtube feature I had never before played with. Congrats on making that completely simple to do.

This becomes, just through the pleasure of listening to it, my default thing to listen to while doing anything on my computer at home for the next several weeks. I am reminded that Christmas is coming up when I mention it, and so I go searching for the CDs. Amazon gives me no love. Oh, and its worth mentioning right here that I am searching for the physical media, not just an iTunes download. @set me=grognard. *shrug*

So I poke around some more, get some more info about the artist, etc, and spend about the next two hours finding out more about this guy, and ultimately, not finding anyplace that sells his stuff. Blah. The best I get is this page. It seems he signed up with them a few years ago. No CDs there, but it was late, I was tired, and the “contact” link was just too inviting. I did not have really high hopes, but what the hell. My expectation at this point is a polite form letter in response telling me that stuff is out of print, yadda yadda, have a nice day.

To my very pleasant surprise, I get an email less than 24 hours later FROM THE ARTIST HIMSELF. Now that is what the internet is all about, goddamnit. I love that. He was kind enough to hook me up this website, which he indicated (by the quick examination of the box at his feet) had about 15 copies of the album I wanted, still in stock. A short transaction later, and my order is in! Now that is just awesome.

We exchanged a few emails after that, chatted about artist’s rights, physical vs. digital media, and BigMusicCorp and such, and so I’m happy to push more business his way if my little corner of the Internet should happen to enjoy his music as much as I have. Thanks Nick! A pleasure doing business with you. Don’t stop making cool music for me to listen to!

EC2 keypair nonsense

Getting the EC2 instance keypairs to work with the various types of SSH clients out there seems to be somewhat of an issue. I had trouble with it when I first started out, and I’ve had a few friends request help on that. I just got home, started fresh, and documented my steps with all three clients below (linux command line ssh, putty and SecureCRT). Hopefully, this will save a few of you trouble where I had some initially…

Before I get into specific instructions, I should note that there *are* certainly other ways to get the specifics of this to work. This is one method. You may find others, your mileage may vary, all rights wronged, all wrongs reversed, world peace in our lifetimes, etc etc ad nauseum.

On AWS:

  • Using the AWS web administration, select the EC2 tab. Select “Key Pairs” on the left menu
  • “Create Key Pair” on Top Bar
  • Name the pair, in my example, I named it “TestKeyPair”
  • This will download a PEM file. Save it somewhere you will remember.
  • Now on the “Instances” panel (from the left menu), select “Launch Instance” from the top bar
  • I selected the “Basic 64-bit Amazon Linux AMI 2011.09 (AMI Id: ami-1b814f72)” AMI
  • I chose a micro instance in my zone (us-east-1b)
  • Advanced Instance Options – stayed with all default values
  • Instance Details – named the server TestServer
  • Create Key Pair – I selected “Use Existing KeyPair” and selected the key pair created above
  • Configure Firewall – used the quick-start Security Group
  • Review – Launch.

Wait until the new instance is running… find the “Public DNS” field in its properties page, you will be using that to connect.
In my case, it was ec2-50-19-133-144.compute-1.amazonaws.com

Now, for each client, again, same caveat as above… there may, in fact, be other ways to get this working. I just tried to get to a working configuration as quickly as possible.

SecureCRT Instructions :
I’m using build 6.7.2 (x64 build 229). I believe these instructions will only apply to recent builds, since the ability to use
the PEM file directly was only added recently. Older versions will probably still work, but will likely require extra steps to
convert the PEM file to the native SecureCRT format (or another format that it can use)

  1. Create New Session
    • Connect : Name – I used “test server”
    • : Protocol : SSH2
    • : SSH2 : Hostname (use the DNS name above) : ec2-50-19-133-144.compute-1.amazonaws.com
    • : Port : 22 (default)
    • : Username : ec2-user
    • : Authentication : PublicKey
    • Select the method, click on Properties
    • Select “Use session public key setting”
    • Select “Use identity or certificate file”
    • Click on “…” to browse for the downloaded PEM file
    • Click “OK”
    • All other values should be at defaults
  2. Connect
    • You will be prompted to accept the key exchange details. I clicked “Accept & Save”.
    • I was, at that point, logged in to the ec2-user
    • “sudo -i” got me to the root account

PuTTY instructions : (version 0.6.1)

There are other ways to do this (for example, using Pageant), but this is just to get the connection. Presumably, if you can get this working, you can get the other methods as well…

  1. Run the “puttygen” key generation program
    • Conversions menu -> Import key
    • Browse to the saved PEM file
    • You should see all the key details on the screen, including fingerprint, comment, type of key and number of bits
    • Click on “Save private key”
    • Save the file with the PPK file type, I named mine TestKeyPair.ppk
  2. Create new session. I named it “testserver”
    • Host Name (or ip IP address) : use the DNS name above, including the username : ec2-user@ec2-50-19-133-144.compute-1.amazonaws.com
    • Port : 22
    • Connection : Logical Name : I used the DNS name : ec2-50-19-133-144.compute-1.amazonaws.com
    • : Data : Auto-login username : ec2-user
    • : SSH : Auth : Private key file for authentication ->
    • Browse to the file saved in Step 1 above
    • Save your session
  3. Open the connection
    • You will be prompted that the key pair is not yet saved in putty’s cache. Click “Yes” to save the key exchange and continue
    • At this point, I was connected to the server, logged in as “ec2-user”
    • “sudo -i” got me to root login

linux ssh instructions
Linux version (uname -a) :

Linux pebkac 2.6.29.6-smp-pebkac #1 SMP Sat Feb 27 17:55:36 MST 2010 i686 AMD Athlon(tm) 64 Processor 3800+ AuthenticAMD GNU/Linux)

OpenSSH and OpenSSL versions :

OpenSSH_5.2p1, OpenSSL 0.9.8k 25 Mar 2009

This is perhaps easiest. You can use the PEM file directly to connect without additional modification. I transfered the PEM file to my linux server (using SCP) and then executed instructions as you can see below:

jio::/home/jio>>> ssh -i TestKeyPair.pem ec2-user@ec2-50-19-133-144.compute-1.amazonaws.com
	The authenticity of host 'ec2-50-19-133-144.compute-1.amazonaws.com (50.19.133.144)' can't be established.
	RSA key fingerprint is c2:b2:5c:1e:12:4d:55:73:a2:f3:3d:c6:09:d3:9c:cc.
	Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)? yes
	Warning: Permanently added 'ec2-50-19-133-144.compute-1.amazonaws.com,50.19.133.144' (RSA) to the list of known hosts.
	@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@
	@         WARNING: UNPROTECTED PRIVATE KEY FILE!          @
	@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@
	Permissions 0644 for 'TestKeyPair.pem' are too open.
	It is recommended that your private key files are NOT accessible by others.
	This private key will be ignored.
	bad permissions: ignore key: TestKeyPair.pem
	Permission denied (publickey).
jio::/home/jio>>> chmod 400 TestKeyPair.pem 
jio::/home/jio>>> ssh -i TestKeyPair.pem ec2-user@ec2-50-19-133-144.compute-1.amazonaws.com
	Last login: Tue Nov 29 04:30:03 2011 from home.trippy.org
			   __|  __|_  )
			   _|  (     /   Amazon Linux AMI
			  ___|\___|___|

	See /usr/share/doc/system-release/ for latest release notes.
	There are 14 security update(s) out of 18 total update(s) available
	[ec2-user@ip-10-194-110-99 ~]$ sudo -i
	[root@ip-10-194-110-99 ~]# ls -al
		total 36
		dr-xr-x---  3 root root 4096 Nov 29 04:19 .
		dr-xr-xr-x 24 root root 4096 Nov 29 04:08 ..
		-rw-------  1 root root   24 Nov 29 04:31 .bash_history
		-rw-r--r--  1 root root   18 Jan 15  2011 .bash_logout
		-rw-r--r--  1 root root  176 Jan 15  2011 .bash_profile
		-rw-r--r--  1 root root  176 Jan 15  2011 .bashrc
		-rw-r--r--  1 root root  100 Jan 15  2011 .cshrc
		drwx------  2 root root 4096 Nov 29 04:08 .ssh
		-rw-r--r--  1 root root  129 Jan 15  2011 .tcshrc
	[root@ip-10-194-110-99 ~]# exit
		logout
	[ec2-user@ip-10-194-110-99 ~]$ exit
		logout
	Connection to ec2-50-19-133-144.compute-1.amazonaws.com closed.
jio::/home/jio>>>

Enjoy!

Spamalicious!

Ok, so this is awesome. Yeah, sure, we all get spam email all the time. This one, however, caught my eye for no good reason I can think of. Once I read it all the way through, I saved it for posterity’s sake. Also, this is probably only going to be funny to those who know of TrippyMUSH. Here is the email, with bits knocked out to protect … well, me, probably.

Greetings,

My name is xxxxxx xxxxxxx, and I would like to present you with a business opportunity that offers the potential for considerable earnings.

I work for a privately held manufacturing company, which currently purchases a specific product vital to its processing operations at a price significantly above the manufacturing cost. In my proposed business venture, you would act as a stand-in supplier, providing this key material while retaining the same profit margins. My role would be to introduce you to my company as the supplier and to obtain a contract between you and my employer.

I understand that your experience with TrippyMUSH Inc doesn’t directly relate to my field. However, this venture is more in line with your personal capabilities rather than your professional experience.

I would like to confirm your current phone number xxx-xxx-xxxx. Please send a return email to verify your contact number and to schedule the most convenient time to discuss these possibilities in detail. I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Kindest Regards,

Awesomesauce. Pure … awesomesauce. Ok, maybe its only funny to me. Who knows.

Step back sometimes

I had a conversation last weekend reminding me that we all too often spend our mental energy on all the wrong sorts of anxieties. I don’t mean our passions or interests… I mean the things we choose to stress or worry about.

So, due to circumstances that are often out of our own control, we sometimes find ourselves separated from our loved ones, sometimes for extended periods of time. Imagine for a moment that loved one is your son (or daughter), and that you haven’t seen them in 15 years. And when you did, they were 14 years old. Yes, you might argue… that is perhaps an extreme case, and you’d be right. But uncommon? Unheard of? No… I think probably all too common, in fact. Anyway…

Now imagine that you head back to your hometown for a family gathering of some sort. You hear that your son is in town, but really have no way of knowing how to reach them or meet up. Imagine that you decide to hit the old haunts on a particular evening, and then, without any warning, you see your now 29 year old son sitting at the end of the bar, throwing back a beer. You approach, and the following conversation ensues…

him : Do I know you?
you : Yes, you do.
him : How long have I known you?
you : 29 years
him : Are you saying what I think you’re saying?

And then for the next several hours, you find yourselves picking up the pieces and learning about each other again, discovering and sharing.

Makes all of the other crap infesting my brain all seem rather trite by comparison. It also started another thread internally that I haven’t quite flushed out yet, but will post about soon.

Thanks for sharing, Tom. I won’t soon forget this.

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